I once heard that law enforcement is one of the most highly visible yet least understood vocations. That is understandable since most people obey the laws they live under. The most interaction they have had with a cop has been getting handed a $127 fine for speeding.This tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth for the badge. This post’s goal is to give a short overview of the making of a street cop and maybe help some in their perception of law enforcement.
The process by which a person has the civilian shaken out of them and the cop put in is called the field training program. A new probationer will spend four months with field training officers learning how to do the job. The FTO’s are officers within the department that have volunteered to train in these new probationers. The field training program is divided into four phases in which this probationer continues to assume more and more of the work load. Initially he will observe and study the FTO throughout the shift. By the fourth phase (also known as the Shadow Phase) the FTO will be in plain clothes and will evaluate the probationer on his ability to handle calls as if he was alone.
I went through field training 5 1/2 years ago yet I can clearly remember those days. It was a stress-inducing, mind-scrambling time in which I lost 10 pounds. Each night I would go home with a head-ache and homework. Field training is designed to teach a person to look at the streets as a cop should. The officer has to have the ability to drive a squad car 100 mph, listen to dispatch give out important information and navigate to an address. The officer has to have the ability to communicate effectively and know how to deal with all different kinds of people. It is a game of multi-tasking and communication with evolving rules.
Each night the probationer is evaluated on 10 categories of performance. These are categories critical for the successful development of a probationer to become a cop.
1. Interpersonal Relationships- Someone once said that to be a good cop you must be able to talk a dog off a meat truck without getting bit. Communication is such a big part of this job and was an area I had to develop in quickly. To see a cop work a liar over so well that he can’t remember what lie he just told is a thing of beauty. The tv show Southland has many realistic and hilarious examples of this.
2. Geography/ Orientation- For the probationer, geography isn’t just knowing where he is but knowing what street he just passed. It is about knowing what county road is coming up in the next two miles and being able to tell the difference between a township road, a municipal street and state-aid county road. Its knowing the 450 square miles of his jurisdiction better than anyone else. One of the most difficult things to do is to get a high priority, in progress call and have to pull the squad over and find directions to it. The mind must be able to recognize the difference between streets and avenues, Basswood Road and Basswood Road West and know when county road 9 changes from Oasis Road to Sunrise Road to Galaxy Avenue and finally Falcon Avenue. The mind must be able to process and retain this information while a serious load of adrenaline is being dumped into the brain.
3. Motor Vehicle Operation- Can the probationer drive fast while running license plates and talking on the radio? Multi-tasking is the big thing here and certain tasks have to be done 5,000 times before they become as simple as breathing. For example a traffic stop involves many things over the course of 20 seconds. The cop must recognize the violation, find a location to stop the car, give dispatch the location and license plate, look for movement inside the vehicle, run the license plate and process that information, and active the emergency lights; takedown lights; arrowstick and spotlight.
4. Electronic Communication- Talking on the radio to dispatch and other squads is a surprising skill to develop. One wouldn’t think it to be that difficult until the microphone is keyed up and the mind goes blank as to what to say. Many a new cop has humbly aired his newness by saying something dumb on the radio for many agencies to hear and laugh about.
5. Directed Patrol Strategies- A cop needs to know his jurisdiction and know what areas crimes are happening in. The shift is not about driving aimlessly around in circles looking for a drunk driver or speeder. A competent cop will direct his patrols based on where the problems have been. For that to happen he must pay attention to Attempt to Locates, BOLO’s, Incident Reports, and emails for extra patrol requests.
…to be continued